On October 28, Governor Dennis Daugaard issued a press release stating that his Blue Ribbon sales tax increase and new school funding formula has raised South Dakota’s average teacher pay 11.9% over last year’s average to $46,924.
Hey, didn’t we add a half-penny to our sales tax under the promise that directing $67 million in new sales tax revenue toward out schools would raise teacher pay to the statutory target of $48,500?
The Legislature set a “target average salary” of $48,500 for teachers. We knew that we would not reach that average in the first year, because it will take time for schools to become more efficient and repurpose their own funds into salaries. I am very pleased that, with an average salary of nearly $47,000, our schools have made so much progress toward that goal [Governor Dennis Daugaard, press release, 2016.10.28].
The Governor here continues the spin line that evolved this summer when it became clear that few if any schools were going to reach that target, even though the funding formula enacted in 2016 Senate Bill 131 makes clear that $48,500 is the target teacher salary for this school year and that “Each school fiscal year thereafter, the target teacher salary is the previous fiscal year’s target teacher salary increased by the index factor.” Reaching $48,500 next year or a few years from now doesn’t cut the mustard, because that leaves us playing catch-up with an average that will go up by the lesser of CPI or 3% every year. If we use the current annual CPI listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the target average salary for the 2018 school year will rise 1.6% to $49,276.
The Department of Education yesterday released the preliminary survey data on which the Governor based his celebratory October 28 claim.
Out of 150 school districts, DOE estimates 15 have reached the target salary (Douglass, Oglala Lakota, Eagle Butte, Mitchell, Brandon Valley, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Watertown, Yankton, Oelrichs, Dakota Valley, Aberdeen, Dupree, Tri-Valley, and Huron). 39 school districts remain below last year’s average teacher salary of $41,940.
Reaching the Governor’s target average salary this year would have required raising every teacher salary by $6,560. Only 25 schools gave average raises that big.
Reaching that average for the target number of teachers specified by the Governor’s target student-teacher ratios (roughly 9,070 teachers) would have required $59.5 million… $7.5 million less than the new sales tax was supposed to send to the schools.
The sales tax promised more than enough money to reach the statewide target average teacher salary. Why aren’t we there?
Note that DOE’s data are preliminary and based on staffing levels from last year. They don’t have this year’s staffing levels. I’m conducting my own survey of schools to get actual full-time equivalents on the job this year. Currently I have data from 112 school districts teaching 77% of the current K-12 student population with 7,430.69 teacher FTEs.
Recall that a key and contentious part of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon plan was the new funding formula based on a sliding scale of ideal student/teacher ratios, from 12 in school districts with 200 students or fewer to 15 in school districts with 600 students or more.
Applying this formula to the 112 school districts that have sent me data so far and their current fall enrollments, I find the Governor’s formula expected those school districts to shed 361.69 FTEs from last year. Instead, while 36 of those districts cut teachers, 52 added teachers. Those 112 school districts added a net 106.98 FTEs. Instead of cutting staff 4.9%, they boosted staff 1.5%.
The 112 schools in my survey raised their average teacher salary from $41,780 to $46,642. They have 7,430.69 teacher FTEs. Had they all followed the Governor’s recommended staffing levels, they’d have 6,962.02 FTEs. At those staffing levels, their average teacher salary could have been $49,782.
So why are we failing to reach the target average teacher salary? We can phrase the conclusion from these data two ways:
- The Governor’s target student-teacher ratio formula misunderstands the needs local districts see for staffing levels.
- Local districts are prioritizing hiring more staff (perhaps to restore programs cut by the Daugaard austerity) over reaching regionally competitive wages.
Every South Dakota school district in my survey is paying teachers more, with increases in their average pay ranging from $1,740 at Northwestern to $9,969 at Mobridge-Pollock. But given a big boost in revenue, these 112 school districts have chosen to put about 60% of the new money available toward raising teacher pay and 40% of the money available toward hiring more teachers.